When then No. 7 Penn State lost to No. 9 Ohio State, redshirt freshman Taylor Hammond had some fiery comments. He said it was circled on the calendar for him.
The calendar has finally turned to that date as the now-No. 13 Nittany Lions (14-5, 8-1 EIVA) travel to Columbus, Ohio to take on No. 9 Ohio State (14-3, 7-1 MIVA), Saturday night. The game is the rubber match between the two schools as Penn State swept the first at the Outrigger Invitational in Hawaii, and the Buckeyes won the second, also a sweep, in Happy Valley.
The match that Hammond circled on the calendar is the biggest so far for the Lions this season. Penn State lost two matches to unranked opponents last weekend (IPFW and Ball State). Coach Mark Pavlik also gave the team off Monday and Tuesday, and at practice Wednesday, the team looked relaxed, but extremely focused. It was a serious mood for the Lions, who need a bounce-back win even though the match with the Buckeyes is non-conference.
Here are five keys for Penn State this weekend to win.
- Penn State had nine more errors than Ball State in the loss to the Cardinals, and eight more than the Mastodons in the loss to IPFW. PSU needs to cut down the errors this weekend, because the Ohio State team will make them pay if the Lions have a lot of them.
- Penn State only had 12 blocks in two matches last weekend. While the Lions have not out-blocked OSU this year, it could help Penn State shut Ohio State redshirt freshman opposite Andrew Lutz.
3. Shut down the Buckeyes' biggest threats
- Sophomore Mike Henchy and Lutz are the Buckeyes' are Ohio State's top two kill leaders. Henchy leads the team with 211, and Lutz 187. Both average better than 3.4 kills per set. Lutz was a huge factor in the Ohio State's win over Penn State this season. He didn't not play the first time the two schools met. Lutz had a team-high 13 kills in the second meeting.
4. Get the lead
- One of the big factors in Penn State's win earlier this season was maintaining a lead. While the match was tied 22 times, the match only saw seven lead changes. If Penn State can get out to a lead and hold it early, it could help them big time in the Buckeye State.
5. Matt Seifert
- The redshirt freshman was one of the few bright spots last weekend. He had 17 kills in two matches last weekend. Eleven of those kills came in the IPFW match, a career-high. He also was key in Penn State's win earlier in the season. If he can have a big weekend, and as long as the Russell brothers have a good weekend, the Lions have a decent chance.
Despite Ohio State being hot and coming of sweep wins over Grand Canyon, I predict Penn State winning in five. The team was the most focused I had seen them in practice. Normally a loose, relaxed team, the Lions looked sharp. Also, I think that the losses to IPFW and Ball State may have sparked a fire in the Lions.